When Cardiff City took the decision to reluctantly accept the resignation of Neil Warnock on November 11th 2019, they did so with a heavy heart. Neil Warnock had dragged a club, beset by in-fighting and a lack of direction, to new heights, coming within a whisker of surviving in the Premier League. One thing it was not however, was a shock to the board, who had been informed some months prior that this season was indeed to be Neil Warnock’s last in charge.
It would seem common sense at this point for the club to implement The Masterplan; the plan they had in place for a successor to take up the mantle and run with what was a more than capable squad of players. No one knows whether Neil Harris was the man they’d identified to continue Warnock’s work at the club; but if he was always the man they’d targeted, they certainly didn’t say so at the time.
I was distinctly underwhelmed by the speculation surrounding Harris although I was determined to give the man a chance. Everyone deserves the time to prove their worth in their role. I’d have liked a higher profile Championship manager with a clear focus on a certain playing style (Alex Neil was my preferred option), but Harris got the job and so he got my support.
Here we are seven weeks down the line from his appointment and there remain serious questions. I would summarise them as per below:
1) Has the playing style changed much since Neil Warnock left?
2) Have we seen much improvement in results?
3) Does there seem to a clear direction?
4) Does this seem like the right decision?
In purely aesthetic terms, there have been some changes made to the way we play, but it would be fair to say that this doesn’t revolve around ball retention:
In the last seven league matches, Cardiff City’s possession stats have been as per below (most recent to oldest):
This makes an average of 42% possession gained, or as some would say 58% possession lost!
Contrast this to Warnock’s final seven league matches (his final match first), his team averaged 41% possession his final seven matches:
So for all the talk of changing styles, Harris has yet to make his mark, if you’re looking for the Bluebirds to keep the ball for longer periods of time. It would be fair to say that there ‘seems’ to be less long balls forward or aimless clearances, but whether the stats bear this out is for another time.
New managers often ask supporters to judge them after their first ten games, Neil Harris’s league record stands as per below:
Goals scored: 15
Goals conceded: 17
‘Decidedly mixed’ would be a kind reflection on the new managers’ record, ‘inconsistent’ would be another. When you consider one of those losses saw Cardiff City concede six goals in one match, it becomes worrying.
Warnock’s final ten games finished as per below:
Goals scored: 14
Goals conceded: 14
It would be fair to say it’s not vastly different and whilst Harris could point to an additional win and one less loss, Warnock could highlight, with some justification, that his team conceded less and certainly didn’t let in six goals in one match.
All in all, results have improved albeit slightly, but the new manager bounce has long since faded with, the honeymoon period a distant memory.
A new Direction?
I wish I could say Harris has overseen a new direction on and off the pitch, and maybe it’s just too early to judge, but I can’t. Warnock left us in 14th place and we currently sit in 12th. Hardly a monumental change, although there is only four points between Cardiff and Swansea in 6th.
It’s difficult to see the direction Harris is looking to take the club. He talks a good game and has promised to invest in the youth more, but this remains a challenge to be overcome.
I am not yet confident with Harris at the wheel but I am keen to be proved wrong.
The right decision?
In fairness, it’s too soon to tell and I’m certainly not in the hysterical camp currently occupied by some on social media. The facts speak for themselves. Any improvement in results has been incremental and there remain some significant concerns.
Harris has yet to convince me that he was the right appointment and I, like many others, are battling apathy when it comes to supporting my club. That shouldn’t be the case and whilst it’s never been easy following the Bluebirds, it shouldn’t be hard to care.
I advocate giving him at least until the end of the season to demonstrate his worth and would call for a little patience. He has a lot of work to do in terms of moving players on and that alone makes me think he needs time.
Patience hasn’t been a strength of many Bluebirds, but perhaps now is the time for a change.